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Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Walls were built by Edward I following the outbreak of the First War of Scottish Independence. In the subsequent two centuries, ownership of the town alternated between England and Scotland prompting regular upgrades to the defences. The most significant enhancements were made by Elizabeth I who added state-of-the-art, arrowhead bastions.





Berwick is located on the northern bank of the River Tweed, near the point where it flows into the North Sea, and for centuries has served as a natural harbour. Originally part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Bernicia, this domain later merged with Deira to become the Kingdom Northumbria. This occupied all the land between the Rivers Forth and Humber and in AD 867 was incorporated into the Danelaw. However, as both England and Scotland emerged as nations, each vied for control of Northumbria. In AD 927 it was reduced to an Earldom and incorporated into England under King Athelstan. However, in 1018 Malcolm II of Scotland won a decisive victory at the Battle of Carham and took control of all land to the north of the River Tweed effectively splitting the territory. Berwick, which was to the north of the river, became part of Scotland at this time.


Port for Roxburgh


Around 1120, King Alexander I made Roxburgh a Royal Borough and Berwick served as its port. No later than 1127, Berwick Castle was raised. The town thrived and in 1175 was deemed a sufficiently grand prize to be ceded to the English as part of the remuneration package associated with the Treaty of Falaise (1175) which secured the release of King William the Lion of Scotland. He had invaded England the previous year in support of the rebellion of Henry the Young King but his campaign ended in disaster when he was captured at the Second Battle of Alnwick (1174). However, English ownership of Berwick was short-lived as in 1189 Richard I, who was attempting to raise funds for the Third Crusade, offered to sell it. In an agreement known as the Quitclaim of Canterbury, Berwick was purchased by the Scots for the sum of 10,000 marks.

Berwick Castle was started by David I of Scotland no later than 1127.

Edward I


Berwick remained in Scottish hands throughout most of the thirteenth century although the town was razed by King John in early 1216 during the First Barons' War. However, in 1286 Alexander III died leaving only a three year old grand-daughter, Margaret, as his heir. When she died in 1290, the throne was left vacant with no clear successor. Multiple claimants came forward and the country was on brink of civil war. A council of senior magnates, known as the Guardians of Scotland, sought to avoid instability and invited Edward I of England to arbitrate between the rival claimants. Edward saw this as an opportunity to make Scotland a vassal state and demanded that he was recognised as overlord and that all Royal castles, including Berwick-upon-Tweed, be handed over to his control. On 17 November 1292, within the Great Hall of Berwick Castle, Edward announced his decision in favour of John Balliol.


First War of Scottish Independence


Within a few years of John Balliol being anointed King of Scotland, he was in conflict with Edward I. In attempting to assert his overlordship, the English King placed John in an impossible position with extensive demands for soldiers for use in Edward's continental wars. John had little choice but to rebel and accordingly the First War of Scottish Independence commenced in 1296 with English forces advancing into Scotland along the east coast. Berwick was in the direct line of attack and was stormed by the English with as many as 5,000 people allegedly being killed. Berwick was the site chosen for thousands of Scottish nobles to pay homage to Edward I following their decisive defeat at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) whilst John Balliol himself was forced to abdicate. Berwick remained in English hands and the town walls were either built or, if they already existed, significantly upgraded at this time. The walls extended for a length of over two miles and were protected by nineteen towers whilst five gateways provided access.


The early English success in the war didn't last. In 1297 the Scottish rebelled under the leadership of William Wallace. He had early success at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) and the same year mounted an attack on Berwick. The town fell to his forces but the English garrison within the castle held out and when a Royal army arrived the following year, Wallace and his forces withdrew. The English, under the command of Edward I himself, pursued the Scots and defeated them at the Battle of Falkirk (1298). An uneasy peace followed but in 1306 Robert the Bruce rebelled against Edward I and was crowned King of Scotland. The English King once again mustered his forces but the campaign petered out when he died whilst en route to crush the Scots. His son, Edward II, lacked his father's military credentials allowing Robert to systematically reduce English garrisons in Scotland. By late 1313 only Stirling and Berwick held out and accordingly Edward II granted the populace of the latter murage (the right to tax to fund upgrades to the town walls). However, after the crushing English defeat at the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), Robert took the war into the north of England. Berwick was intermittently besieged between 1315 and 1318 and it eventually fell in April 1318 when the Governor betrayed the town to the Scots. Lacking provisions the castle surrendered six days later. The Scots made upgrades to the town wall at this time including heightening it.


Second War of Scottish Independence


The First War of Scottish Independence formally came to an end with the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328. By this time Edward II and been overthrown and the Government of England, whilst nominally under Edward III, was being controlled by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. He was deposed in 1330 and the newly unfettered Edward III looked north once more. In 1332 he covertly supported the claim of Edward Balliol, son of the former King John of Scotland, over and above Bruce's son, David II. Balliol was crowned but he was deposed a few months later and fled to Carlisle. He requested support from Edward III and pledged to cede Berwick-upon-Tweed to the English King. Edward III took up the challenge and besieged the town. An agreement was struck with Sir Alexander Seton, Scottish Governor of Berwick, that he would surrender if not relieved by 11 July 1333 and provided hostages as security of the offer. The Scottish meanwhile, under the command of Sir Archibald Douglas, had recruited a significant army and this prompted Seton to withdraw his offer; Edward was furious and started hanging the hostages at the rate of two per day. Edward III also used cannon to damage the defences, the first instance of such artillery being used in siege warfare. The two forces fought the Battle of Halidon Hill on 19 July 1333 which ended in a decisive English victory after which Berwick once again fell into their control. A surprise Scottish attack captured Berwick in 1355 but, when faced with an advancing English army, the Scots withdrew. In 1357 the war formally came to an end with the Treaty of Berwick leaving the town in English hands.

Berwick-upon-Tweed as viewed from the Halidon Hill battlefield.

Border Warfare


Despite the end of the conflict between the two nations, the six decades of warfare created an enduring culture of border raiding amongst the local populace. These skirmishes led to misery on both sides of the border and often on a scale not far removed from localised warfare. Berwick Castle was captured by seven Scotsmen in 1377 but it was stormed by English forces the same year. In 1384 the town and castle were both attacked by Scottish raiders who were eventually bought off for 2,000 marks.


Wars of the Roses


The mid-fifteenth century saw England descend into the dynastic struggle known as the Wars of the Roses during which the Lancastrian and his Yorkist factions vied for control. Following the defeat of the Lancastrian Henry VI at the Battle of Towton (1461), Queen Margaret of Anjou ceded Berwick to the Scots in return for support against the Yorkists. They duly took control but in 1482 the Yorkist Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) re-took the town.


Upgraded Town Walls


In 1502 the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between England and Scotland acknowledged English ownership of Berwick. Nevertheless, whilst no further attacks were made, in the subsequent decades vast spending was made on Berwick's defences. Between 1539 and 1542 Henry VIII built an enhanced fortification to protect the town's North East corner (now Lord's Mount) due to fears of a Franco-Spanish invasion. However, it was during the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I that the most dramatic modifications were made. In 1558, Calais had been lost to the French and the 'Auld Alliance' between that country and Scotland threatened Berwick. Mary I commissioned Sir Richard Lee to build a bastioned defensive line around the town and this work was continued by Elizabeth I.


The new defences were significant and, with the exception of Yarmouth and Sandown Castles on the Isle of Wight, represented the first use of arrowhead bastions in Britain. The ramparts were six metres tall built from limestone and backed with earth. They were also topped with a five metre high earth bank to absorb artillery impacts. The arrowhead configuration allowed guns to be positioned behind the bastions that could fire along the length of the curtain walls. A ditch, originally partly flooded, surrounded the fortifications. Of note the Elizabethan defences did not enclose the whole town - the Medieval Castle, by then ruinous, and the northern half of the town were not protected by the new walls. Due to spiralling costs, work stopped on the new bastions in 1569 leaving them only partially complete. By this time Mary, Queen of Scots was Elizabeth's prisoner and the threat of Scottish invasion had reduced. Further stability was brought with the Union of the Crowns in 1603 with Berwick being the first English town to welcome James VI of Scotland as he proceeded south to become James I of England.

Windmill Bastion, one of numerous such structures built during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Civil War


During the seventeenth century Civil War, Berwick was again occupied by the Scottish albeit this time with the consent of the English Parliament. Scotland had entered the war in 1643 after a sustained diplomatic mission on behalf of Parliament. Scottish forces crossed the River Tweed on 18 January 1644 and occupied Berwick and much of northern England. The English resumed control after the war but in 1648, during the Second Civil War, Royalist forces briefly captured the town. They were soon dislodged and Parliamentary forces under the control of Colonel George Fenwick.




The final upgrades to Berwick's town walls occurred as a result of the Jacobite rebellions. The overthrow of James II (VII of Scotland) in 1689 had been met with considerable resistance in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, in northern England. A rebellion in 1689 had been quickly suppressed but further uprisings followed in 1715 and 1719. The Government invested in numerous fortifications and new road infrastructure extending across northern Britain . In 1721 the first purpose built barracks in England was constructed within the town. A gunpowder magazine was added in 1749. Berwick remained under military law until the mid-nineteenth century and in 1885 was incorporated into the English county of Northumberland.





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What's There?

Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Walls are in the care of English Heritage and in an excellent state of preservation albeit the ramparts were modified by the Victorians to incorporate a wall walk. In addition to the Elizabethan defences, fragments of the medieval walls are also visible as are later seventeenth/eighteenth century upgrades. There is also an eighteenth century barracks (English Heritage) and a Magazine. The partial, ruined remains of Berwick Castle are nearby.

Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Walls. The medieval walls enclosed the whole town but not the castle. The later Elizabethan defences only protected the southern half of  Berwick although artillery positions were installed within the castle during the Tudor era. Seventeenth and eighteenth century modifications were made including construction of the large barracks near Windmill Bastion.

Elizabethan Defences. The bastioned town walls were started by Mary I and continued by Elizabeth I. Work continued until 1569 when the sheer costs, coupled with the changed political situation, led to the abandonment of the project. The scheme utilised arrowhead bastions, the first time such a configuration had been used on town walls in Britain. The picture shows Windmill Bastion, which protected the central eastern portion of the walls. Note the eighteenth century barracks to the rear.

Artillery Emplacement. Behind each arrowhead bastion was an enclosure for artillery.

Elizabeth Defences. The ramparts were six metres tall and built from limestone, backed with earth. They were also topped with a five metre high earth bank to absorb artillery impacts.

Upper Artillery Positions. The upper defences were installed in the eighteenth century.

Town Gates. All the town gates have been modified in one form or another as the town sought to improve access during the nineteenth century.

Waterfront Wall. The original intent was to rebuild the south and western walls concurrently with the landward defences. This didn't happen due to a termination in funding in 1569. Accordingly the medieval walls were retained although these were partially rebuilt in the eighteenth century.

Magazine. The magazine was added in 1749.

Lord's Mount. This curved stone bulwark was built in the 1540s concurrently with Henry VIII's massive fort building programme intended to secure England against a Franco-Spanish invasion.

Bell Tower. The octagonal Bell Tower was built circa-1570 and stands on the foundations of a thirteenth century tower.

Medieval Wall. Traces of the medieval wall, first built in stone by Edward I, can still be seen.

Barracks. The first purpose built barracks in Britain was constructed at Berwick between 1717 and 1721.

Bridge. The current bridge dates from 1611 and replaced an earlier wooden structure.

Getting There

Berwick-upon-Tweed is found just off the A1. There are extensive car parking facilities across the town with one option shown below.

Car Parking Option

TD15 1JS

55.771607N 2.005958W

Berwick Castle

TD15 1NP

55.774068N 2.012334W

Scot’s Gate

TD15 1JS

55.770748N 2.007419W

Cumberland Bastion

No Postcode

55.772460N 2.004526W

Brass Bastion

No Postcode

55.773320N 2.000771W

Barracks (EH)

TD15 1DF

55.771485N 2.000185W

Windmill Bastion

No Postcode

55.770784N 1.997909W

King's Mount

TD15 1JA

55.767763N 1.998277W

Lord’s Mount

TD15 1LY

55.775360N 2.003641W

Bell Tower

TD15 1ND

55.775066N 2.005052W